I am sitting in bed looking out at the setting sun over downtown Ottawa, winding down for the night. The Canadian Championships start tomorrow, and as the the qualifier for the World Championships next month this is the most important meet of my season so far.
Every year the national championships are filled with anxiety, pressure, and dread. I have always feared failure at this meet in particular because the potential for disappointment is so high - the possibility of *not* qualifying for the Worlds, or the Olympics, depending on the year. Even as I have matured as an athlete, re-adjusted my priorities and stopped chasing goals single-mindedly, the Canadian Championship meet has always been a dark cloud on the horizon. That is, until now.
Earlier this spring as the trip to Ottawa approached, a familiar wave of dread washed over me and I attempted to change my outlook. My husband, Antonio, would be using vacation days to travel with me and support me, as he always does. Nationals are such a heavy burden for me that he has become accustomed to dealing with a highly anxious and stressed out athlete/wife. This year I just wanted him to have some fun during his vacation, so we planned a road trip from Michigan to Toronto, and then on to Ottawa. We booked nice hotels and great restaurants and planned to do some shopping with the money we saved on plane tickets. We looked forward to the trip for weeks.
And now, it’s time to race. At some point I realized my happy anticipation was not only for our fun road trip plans, but also for the actual competition. I am excited to race, and that is significant.
I tend to be pessimistic even though nothing really bad has ever even happened to me. In 5 years I have never missed a Canadian team and have never been sidelined due to injury. Even the disappointments I have had have proven to be valuable for learning and growth, and yet I always deal with fear of failure. It doesn't make sense - God has always been so good to me and has given me so much, and still I expect disappointment, failure, and sadness. These thoughts are what prompted me to seek help from a sport psych almost 4 years ago. Since then I have learned many ways to manage my negative thoughts, and have made a lot of progress. In this battle I asked God to make me optimistic. Especially over the past year my prayers have been filled with the same request: that God would help me instinctively, naturally, expect something good to happen.
Tonight, instead of guarding against "worst case scenarios," my mind is full of possibilities of what could go right. I don’t know if I will win or if I will qualify for the World Championships, but I would bet on me. Regardless of the outcome, my preparation has been great and I am confident that my performance will be great as well. If I get beat it means that the other women also have great runs because that’s what it will take to beat me.
Even as I write, these positive thoughts seem somewhat foreign to me. They have never come naturally until now. Instead of celebrating the joy of a long-sought answer to prayer, I tried to brush off this positivity as no big deal, thinking that my optimism was because my training has been going really well. Or because only 3 people have world standard which means chances are good that I can make the team this year.
But no - good health, good preparation and my chances on paper have never made me optimistic. (There have been years where I've had a better buildup of training or there's been less competition and I still dreaded race day.) At most, these factors have been tools used to combat my dread and anxiety by discipline and sheer will. But the reason I am optimistic tonight is because God has granted my request. He has made me genuinely, deep down, optimistic for this meet. Are my struggles forever behind me? Likely not, but I hope God will continue this transformation... because it’s great! I can’t wait to race. It’s going to be good.